The Internet has grown large enough that there's little hope of forcing all its users to love, honor, and obey guidelines such as these. Every new mail user agent seems to default to quoting the entire message to which the author is replying (which usually quotes the previous one and the previous one and the previous one). In part, this is a blessing, since otherwise nothing would ever be quoted, and we'd never have any idea what "me" was "tooing". It also means, however, that a large portion of the messages that hit our inboxes contain 273 quoted lines with a couple of original ones at the top or bottom.
Many people have no idea they're doing this and will never be computer-literate enough to delete the quoted text or prune it to just the relevant parts. Others are fully aware of what they're doing but simply don't care. What can we do? My solution for people who send HTML messages, MS Word files, and the like was not to transform everyone in the world into a reasonable person, but to write scripts that convert their messages into plain text ones that look like every other message. t-prot lets me do the same for quoting.
Let's see an example:
(I apologize to the members of the lilypond-user mailing list that the examples here come from their posts. Unfortunately, as I watched my mail for messages that would be good for this article, the best ones all came from there. :)
Now, what can we make of this message? It's a screenful of a quotation of a message we have presumably already read. We're seeing 28% of it. Is there something new at the bottom? In the middle, interspersed among more quoting? Or did the author just hit "Reply" and "Send" by mistake, without adding anything? One way to find out is to hit pagedown, pagedown, pagedown. Another is to let t-prot do its magic:
Voilà! The whole message fits on one screen, and we can see all we need to see as soon as we open it.
Here's how it works:
t-prot is simply a filter; pipe a message through it, and more palatable results are produced. It can:
"TOFU"? The manual page explains it this way:
TOFU is an abbreviation which mixes German and English words; it expands to "text oben, full-quote unten" which means "text above - full quote below" and describes the style of so many users who let their mailer or newsreader quote everything of the previous message and just add some text at the top; obviously they think that quoted text must not be changed at all.
So "t-prot" provides "TOFU Protection".
Some more examples:
This time, we have some new text at the top with a huge quote below. That's probably all there is to the message, right? But can you be sure? What if he's put tomorrow's winning lottery numbers at the bottom? You'll never be satisfied until you've scrolled down (and been disappointed).
But if you were using t-prot, you'd see this:
Here's another six-line message...
... from which t-prot strips a 67-line quote and a 15-line (!) signature:
One more. Is there anything here?:
Yes, indeed. t-prot squeezes out the extras on both sides and brings us the gold hidden in the middle:
t-prot is well-documented and very customizable. You can control which annoyances you want it to handle, how much quoting is too much, etc.
If you haven't already, imagine how much more quickly you can go through the day's mail from a list if only the important parts of a message are shown. Run on over to Jochen Striepe's site, give t-prot a try, and give him your thanks.
You may have guessed that the MUA in the above screenshots is mutt. t-prot is simply a filter and can be used with any email or Usenet software, but it was originally written with mutt in mind and has some features which make it especially nice when combined with mutt. So, as long as we're talking about mutt, let me share a few favorite mutt tips:
will put the vi-like "~"s at the bottom of each message, as in the screenshots. This lets you be absolutely sure you're seeing the very bottom of the message.
set smart_wrap set wrapmargin=10 unset markers
will wrap long lines to fit the screen. This is a real dream-come-true for reading messages from MUAs like Outlook which sometimes put each paragraph of a message on a single line (*boggle*).
alternative_order text/plain text/enriched text
sets your preference for viewing messages with the Content-Type "multipart/alternative". These are often messages which, for reasons best known to MUA authors, contain the same text twice, once in plain text and once in HTML. You've probably configured mutt to pipe HTML messages through an HTML-to-text filter, but by setting this, you get the plain text version right away, and don't have to wait for the HTML to be processed. An added bonus of this is that a lot of spam puts the advertisement in the HTML attachment and nonsense in the plain text one, so when you open a message and see 300 random words, you can delete it right away without having waited for the Viagrra message to be converted.
display_filter.sh, then piping the results to t-prot.
display_filter.shis a simple sed script which has example regular expressions for deleting Yahoo! Groups advertisements, the extremely long signatures of certain people and lists, etc. Please bug Phil! for a copy or to put it on his homepage.
If you have any other mutt goodness to share, please add it to the comments below.